Lagoon Project Proponents Go on the Defensive as June 1 Start Date Looms
• Opponents Say They Will Continue to Fight Stop the Plan
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
The fight over the Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Project is escalating, as the June 1 start day for the State Parks' plan to drain, dredge and reconstruct the western portion of the lagoon rapidly approaches.
The Malibu City Council voted unanimously to oppose the lagoon project in April. Malibu City Manager Jim Thorsen outlined the city's most recent actions at Monday's city council meeting.
Malibu Mayor Laura Rosenthal issued a letter from the city to California Governor Jerry Brown State Parks last week.
This week, the city replied to State Parks, rebutting the state agency's response to concerns expressed by the city over the project's dewatering and monitoring plan.
City Attorney Christi Hogan also this week submitted an amicus brief in conjunction with the lawsuit filed by the Wetlands Defense Fund's lawsuit, enumerating the city's concerns. The city also issued a letter highlighting its concerns to the California Coastal Commission, which is the agency that will review the final dewatering and monitoring plans.
"[The city made] many comments," City Manager Jim Thorsen told the Malibu City Council on Monday. He cited an apparent discrepancy in the plan's dewatering plan that appears to indicate that the system will be inadequate to treat the volume of water that must be removed as one of the city's main concerns, and also stated that the dewatering plan, which requires millions of gallons of onsite water storage, is "problematic."
"The City met with State Parks more than 18 months ago and requested an opportunity to review and comment on these documents before submission to the Coastal Commission and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board ," the comments to the CCC state. "Unfortunately, we were not afforded the courtesy to review the documents in advance of the latest submittal. Therefore, the City of Malibu is now providing the California Coastal Commission with its preliminary comments on these documents.
"The City is anticipating that the Coastal Commission and RWQCB will be able to use these comments to refine these two plans to ensure that public health is protected for the thousands of ocean-going visitors at Surfrider Beach.
"The most glaring and troublesome read of the dewatering plan deals with the initial lowering of the entire lagoon. As described in detail on page 11 of the report, the plan indicates that the entire lagoon must be lowered to an elevation of 3.0 in order to begin to install the interior dike. Therefore, it is estimated that the entire lagoon area would need to be pumped at a rate of 25 cfs (11,200 gallons per minute) to overcome the inflow. It is stated this work will likely run continuously, 24 hours a day, for three days and possibly up to seven days. There are no statements on how this flow will be stored, treated or dispersed.
Thorsen told the council that the current plan calls for the collection, storage, treatment and discharge of 48.5 million gallons of water during a three-day period, but that the contractor is only required to install a water treatment system with a capacity of 1100 gpm.
"It will take over 30 days to treat this amount of water and require approximately 2500 "Baker" tanks, with each tank having a capacity of 20,000 gallons," Thorsen wrote in the letter submitted to the CCC.
"Nowhere in the report is this issue addressed. This is a fatal flaw in the design."
Thorsen concluded his update by explaining the city has been unable to find an independent third party willing to do a review of the project. The council voted to allocate $25,000 to fund a study in April. The USGS, Thorsen said, indicated that it did not wish to undertake the study due to a "perceived bias," and opponents of the project expressed objections to NOAA.
"At this point [the city is] still looking for a third party reviewer."
Several public speakers and council members expressed concern over the potential for an upcoming State Parks project to remove Rindge Dam to impact the lagoon.
Former councilmember Jefferson Wagner brought a symbolic white flag to the meeting and urged both sides to open a dialogue. "[The Rindge Dam removal is] something we will need to review," he said.
"The Environmental Impact Report needs to be done again," lead lagoon opponent Marcia Hanscom told the council. She stated that the Rindge Dam removal was not figured into the cumulative impact on the lagoon.
Serra Retreat resident Ann Payne expressed concern over whether the cumulative impact of both projects will also have a negative impact on residents who live near the creek and on the Cross Creek Bridge, which enables emergency and fire department access.
"We need representation," Councilmember John Sibert said about the dam removal project. "The cumulative impact on the creek and those who live here is a little, a lot concerning."
The project, which has received a groundswell of opposition in the Malibu community, has recently acquired one new defender: Glenn Hening, who helped to found the Surfrider Foundation in 1984.
The Ventura resident is no stranger to local hot button issues. In 2007 he spoke out in favor of the floating Liquified Natural Gas terminal that was proposed for the water off Malibu, despite overwhelming opposition to the project.
"I am not here about the project, but about the behavior," Hening told the council on Monday.
"A highly respected scientist fears for her life," he said. "It's embarrassing. It doesn't look good."
Hening, who created a documentary exposé in 2001 focused on surf scene violence, called the behavior of project opponents "contentious, petulant and disgraceful." "[My] colleague was just flipped off by your most famous real estate agent," Hening said.
State Parks was also active this week, defending the project. In what observers are calling an unusual move, Anthony Perez, deputy director of park operations, wrote a letter to the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, requesting that they reconsider their opposition to the project.
"We regret that the party chose not to contact a representative from State Parks before adopting the resolution, but instead relied on false and unsupported statements of project opponents," the letter states.
Perez rebuts the points made by the LACDP. Perez writes that the Tapia Water Reclamation Facility's discharge prohibition has "no bearing on the project," and that "the use of the word 'destruction' is subjective and emotional and is not supported by any evidence."
Perez also clarifies State Parks policy for dealing with the endangered tidewater goby, a tiny, mud-dwelling fish that has been at the heart of much lagoon project debate.
"State Parks has a permit for this project from the USFWS," Perez wrote. "The permit requires us to relocate any tidewater gobies from the project area prior to construction. This will be accomplished by a team of biologists that are trained and led by a USFWS-approved fisheries biologist. The goby population number in the lagoon is unknown at this time, but is likely in the thousands.
"The USFWS permit allows an incidental take of up to only five tidewater gobies. While we will take every precaution to avoid goby mortality, if this should occur, the number will be limited to a very small percentage of the total population."
Perez concludes the letter by requesting that "the matter be brought back to the Resolution Committee for revision and that a representative of the project be present."